Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Memento Mori

The Humble Nailbanger has an interesting post about tools and tears. We have a little different take on things so I thought that I would share mine.

While I can admit to a strong attachment to a Bluegrass Blue and Gray 22oz framing hammer that I acquired in Nashville 30 years ago, knives, not so much. I've always found a simple utility knife suitable for me. Cheap enough to be lost or stolen and having with a quick supply of sharp blades. The most dangerous tool in your toolbox is a dull knife. Working in a studio presents a variety of tasks that requires one to be able to go from cutting carpet one minute to slicing foamcore the next so a utility knife works for me. A tool is to be worked with and reflect the same kind of toil that the owner suffers. It develops character.

What I can't relate to is the family aspects of work. I didn't have that kind of relationship with my father. He was neither a carpenter nor electrician. He did not work with his hands. I'm not sure where I got my mechanical ability but it wasn't from him. He had no interest to find out how things worked while it fascinated me. He would drive around all summer with the heat on in the car because he couldn't figure out the controls. On the other hand at the age of 10 I took apart a window frame to find out why it was jamming. After figuring out that the sash cord that held the counterweight was broken, I replaced the cord and closed up the frame. Window worked like new.

I inherited a lot of things from my father, some good, some bad. Using the muscle between my ears was a trait I acquired from both of my parents and I am very grateful for that. Once, towards the end of his life and towards the start of the middle of mine, we were discussing my work in New York. He wistfully said to me that I had always done what I wanted to do, anyway. Not in a reproachful way but rather with a faint echo of envy. I escaped the closeness of a small town with its legacy of settlers and charted my own course. He honored tradition while I had no desire to hang lace curtains in my home. When he passed I feel like he pulled a truck load of regrets into the grave with him. And I suspect I'll probably do the much the same.

There’s a poem by Anthony Cronin that I enjoy quite a bit,

“For A Father”.

With the exact length and pace of his father’s stride
The son walks,
Echo’s and intonations of his father’s speech
Are heard when he talks.

Once when the table was tall and the chair a wood
He absorbed his father’s smile
And carefully copied the way that he stood.

He grew into exile slowly
With pride and remorse,
In some way better than his begetters,
In others worse.

And now having chosen, with strangers,
Half glad of his choice
He smiles with his father’s hesitant smile
And speaks with his voice.

Next time I get home I'll make a "cemetery run" and say hello.